You’re NOT getting my vote, Kwame Brown

Kwame Brown is an at-large council member of the District of Columbia Council.  The current council chair, Vincent Gray, is challenging Mayor Fenty.  Kwame Brown is running to become the next council chair.

I haven’t followed Council Member Brown that closely.  The few times I’ve observed him at hearings, he’s okay but I’m not especially impressed.  However, an article in the Sunday, July 18, 2010 edition of The Washington Post has definitely persuaded me not to vote for Kwame Brown.

The article, written by Mike DeBonis, is entitled Kwame Brown’s debt turns into ammo: Council member’s opponent in primary cites credit-card issues.

The 2nd through 5th paragraphs of this article state,

Since December, three credit-card issuers have sued Brown (D-At Large) in D.C. Superior Court, alleging nonpayment of bills and interest exceeding $55,000, court records indicate.  Brown settled one of the cases in April, agreeing to pay $500 a month toward a bill of nearly $24,000; the other cases remain active.  The debt is compounded by Brown’s repeated borrowing against his home and the purchase of the boat, a 1994 Chris-Craft Continental express cruiser, on credit.  Brown estimates that his personal debt exceeds $700,000.

The situation clashes with what Brown is saying on the campaign trail, where he often presents his financial bona fides and emphasizes fiscal responsibility in his effort to win a job that gives him great control over $10 billion in annual city spending.  “I am a bean counter,” Brown told some Ward 3 residents last month.  As council chairman, he added, “you need to get in the weeds.”

Brown’s opponent in the Democratic primary, former Ward 5 council member Vincent B. Orange, Sr., has started to make Brown’s credit-card debt a campaign issue by directly linking it to the city’s fiscal health – the District is perilously close to a 12 percent debt ceiling Brown voted to adhere to.

“It’s poor judgment for him to not have cleaned that situation up,” Orange said Thursday on WRC-TV.  “Is this the person you want to send to Wall Street?  Is this the person you want to send to the Congress?”

Brown, who leads the council’s economic development committee and describes his professional record as “stellar,” has sought to portray his debts as everyday household expenses, the “new spending that you take on as a growing family.”  But a review of public records and interviews with Brown indicate that he is emblematic of a time when ballooning real estate values and easy credit were taken as license to finance personal luxuries.

Page C1, C4.

The issue raised by Brown’s opponent resonates with me.  Even if Brown is an excellent “bean counter,” he doesn’t practice what he preaches.  One’s personal finances should be easier to “bean count” than a huge city budget.  And frankly we as residents of the District of Columbia would have never KNOWN of his financial distress but for the fact that THREE credit-card issuers have SUED HIM.  Your “bean counter” skills are definitely out-of-whack when you can’t make monthly payments on a total of $55K in credit card debt.

Council Member Brown doesn’t see any connection between his personal finances and overseeing $10 billion in annual spending as council chair.  I see a connection.

I also am concerned, with his financial distress, will he be more susceptible to certain lobbyists who may pitch certain policies or procedures and reward Brown with some side benefit like a reduced interest rate on his mortgages?

Further, if Brown is ultimately the next council chair, and he has the opportunity to question candidates for positions with significant fiscal responsibility, and let’s say one of the candidates has a checkered personal finance history as Brown, I hope Brown will recuse himself rather than be a hypocrite and criticize the candidate.

Apparently Brown is well liked but we shouldn’t elect politicians merely on likability.  At this moment in history, with the ongoing Great Recession, with a high unemployment rate in the District of Columbia, with the District of Columbia’s debt edging closer to 12 percent, and with talk about the possibility of a Financial Control Board being re-instituted to run the city’s finances (since the city’s elected officials cannot), now is not the time to vote for Kwame Brown.

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2 Comments

  1. Pamela Lowe said,

    July 30, 2010 at 10:31 am

    I think it’s offensive that just because you have debt it makes you more open for corruption. Kwame is no different than any other family in this city. Didn’t the article say he had 700k in total debt including his home? I would rather have someone represent me that knows has a real sense of the difficult situation that many families are in.

    • July 31, 2010 at 10:16 pm

      Pamela,

      You think it’s offensive. I don’t. Politicians are often judged, right or wrong, if they have relationships outside their marriage. That is a personal matter between the politician and his/her spouse, yet for some reason, Americans believe they are entitled to pass judgment.

      How one handles money is a lot more pertinent to the job of Council Chair versus whether a politician can keep his/her pants/skirt on. Sure, $700K debt included his home. But, according to the article, when Kwame’s family began to grow and his wife stopped working, they didn’t change their lifestyle. HELLO!! Am I missing something? Why do we all think we are so ENTITLED and we can have what we want, when we want it, without any consequence? And, don’t get me started on the purchase of the boat, which he bought because he wanted his children exposed to activities that he didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy as a child, and now he recognizes that wasn’t the smartest purchase [there are other ways to expose your children to sailing than making such a big purchase].

      But don’t forget – you and I wouldn’t even know about Kwame’s financial distress except for the fact that three credit card companies have sued him; he has settled with one and the litigation continues on the other two cards.

      Kwame’s financial difficulties are self-inflicted. Are you saying ALL families in the District of Columbia were as financial irresponsible or just carefree as Kwame? How many of them are even earning anything close to Kwame? How many of them have refinanced their homes multiple times? How many of them presently are unemployed?

      Now, I did stretch to buy my home but I also recognized I had to “restrict my lifestyle” with such a huge purchase. #1 = no cable/satellite tv. #2 – after two different occasions hiring others to mow my lawn, I purchased a Neuton lawn mower and now mow the lawn myself. I can’t go on vacation every year and in fact I haven’t been on vacation since the summer of 2006. These are just a few examples of steps I’ve taken to make sure I live comfortably. Some may say – the house isn’t worth it with such limitations. But I recognized that I couldn’t have my cake and eat it too.

      I’m not sure, minus Natwar Ghandi and Jack Evans, that District of Columbia leaders are focused enough on the dwindling rainy day fund and our growing debt level. I want leaders who demonstrate concern on these issues. And, I’m sorry, Kwame Brown will not receive my support because fiscal issues are too important during this Great Recession and I’m not comfortable with someone who claims to be a “bean counter” but can’t keep track of much smaller sums of money with his own personal finances.


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